Villainous Review

Villainous, also known as Villanos, is animated series which mixes the science fantasy, morbid humor, and comedy horror genres. Alan Ituriel, a veteran of the Mexican animation industry, is the series creator. This series is produced by Ituriel’s A.I. Animation Studios and Cartoon Network. Humberto Cervera and Mayte Sanz are also executive producers. There will be spoilers.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the thirty-third article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on May 26, 2023.

This series flips the script often employed in superhero fiction such as Masters of the Universe: Revelation, Tokyo Mew Mew (and the reboot), Sailor Moon, Sailor Moon Crystal, Vixen, and Young Justice. It focuses on the Black Hat Organization, run by the villainous Black Hat (voiced by Ituriel). He is assisted by his team of three aides: Dr. Flug (voiced by Yian Riuz), Demencia (voiced by Cindy Eliz Pérez), and 5.0.5. (voiced by Mark Fischbach). They are contracted by other villains to “solve” their problems with heroes, either directly or indirectly, or sell inventions created by Dr. Flug. Their plans often go awry with comical and absurd consequences.

Villainous has garnered a massive following since the first webisodes premiered in 2012, followed by efforts by Ituriel to pitch the series to Cartoon Network. This resulted in the pilot airing in June 2019. The series had a backdoor pilot in the Season Two Victor and Valentino episode “Villainy In Monte Macabre”, in October 2020. There were 29 shorts featuring the same characters, which aired from May 2017 to February 2019 on the Cartoon Network Latin America YouTube channel. Even one “episode” was released which consisted of the creators rick-rolling the show’s fans.

Some have posted their own dubs of the show’s six episodes, which were released in Spanish language in October 2021, on HBO Max LA, and other content. Their recent, and official, release as part of “Season 1a” on the newly renamed “Max” streaming service (formerly known as “HBO Max”), makes them more accessible to new and old fans alike.

The first episode of Villainous sets the tone. A superhero named Sunblast (voiced by Roly Gutiérrez) beats up a villain, Penumbra (voiced by Rebecca Manriquez), because his new punching bag hasn’t been delivered. It is also a good introduction to each of the characters: a nervous and nerdy scientist in his 20s named Dr. Flug who wears a paper bag over his head, a green-haired mischief-loving fan of Black Hat named Demencia, and a big blue bear named 5.0.5. The latter is a contradiction, as he was intended to be evil, but is very loving, and likes hugging people. He also serves as the housekeeper-of-sorts of the Black Hat Organization (BHO).

Even from the first episode you can somewhat sympathize with these villains, despite their trapping of Sunblast in a jar, punching Ringworm (voiced by Sean Davis) into submission, and dropping heroes in pits without a second thought. This sympathy is clear when the three protagonists are yelled at by Black Hat for doing a “mediocre” job. One character in particular, Dr. Flug, is scared of his boss (Black Hat), ghosts like Emilia (voiced by Jackie Rodriguez), wrestlers, and almost being killed by heroes.

I liked how the series mixes humor with violence and “course language”. For instance, a group of kids, based on Scooby-Doo protagonists, are scared off by a possessed fence. Later, the unstoppable Bulldozer (voiced by David Steel) attempts to destroy the Outlaw House (voiced by Alex Texeira). He is stopped by 5.0.5., as bears terrify him after one bit him years ago.

Sometimes this comedy is continued during the episode credits. In the episode 2 credits, Bulldozer ends up in the cave house of the three protagonists of We Bare Bears (Grizzly, Panda, and Ice Bear), another CN series. In the credits of the fourth episode, the heroic Airlock (voiced by Jinon Deebs), a short-haired White woman, is eaten by a space monster. This is after she escaped the show’s protagonists because she found them as very “annoying”.

This brings me to another part which I enjoy about Villainous: crossovers with other series. The third episode, reportedly a homage to the Mexican wrestling films of the 1960s, features characters from Victor and Valentino and Helluva Boss in the stands. A few episodes later, Johnny Bravo, from the series of the same name, is a background character, while the robotic lawyers for Black Hat bring plagiarism cases against characters from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.

That same episode also features Harvey Birdman from the Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, and characters from Grim and Evil like Hector Con Carne. Again, these are all CN series, which makes the crossovers all the more interesting.

In the third episode of Villainous, the three protagonists are tasked at eliminating a luchador named El Valiente (voiced by Jose Aparicio) by their client, Adelita Guerrero (voiced by Margarita Coego). It reminds me of three series: Carmen Sandiego, Elena of Avalor and Victor and Valentino.

In the latter two, there are episodes in which the protagonists, or supporting characters, are possessed by a mask, like Mascara Macabra (voiced by Aparicio) in this series, or another individual. As for Carmen Sandiego, the Season Three opening episode features Carmen attending a wrestling match in hopes of finding her mother.

The characters of Villainous become even more relatable in the last couple episodes. In the fourth episode, Dr. Flug’s favorite series is spoiled by a sassy A.I. named V.I.R.U.S. (voiced by Sean Davis). Even worse, 5.0.5. is horrified when Black Hat ruins a children’s show, almost akin to the Teletubbies. It becomes horrific after Black Hat causes the Sun to light the bears on fire.

The series pokes fun at itself. In one episode, the copycats/doppelgangers claim they are BHO in order to rake in profits for themselves. This is better executed than the “Pirates” episode of Cleopatra in Space, as each of the protagonists comes across a “stronger” version of themselves. Hilariously, and sadly, 5.0.5.’s counterpart is just a cactus. In that same episode, I liked how Dr. Flug blatantly interrupts the “origin story” of the other version of Black Hat, annoying him to no end.

The final episode of Villainous ends the series on bang. It focuses on a self-absorbed social media influencer named Miss Heed (voiced by Katherine Clavelo), who Dr. Flug knew when he went to the academy. She is far worse than those depicted in the first season of The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, or the currently airing Kizuna no Allele.

In fact, Heed has a special concoction she sprays on the city residents to make them love her. In an indictment of such influencers, also known as internet personalities or internet celebrities, and their power, Dr. Flug is able to take her down, with the assistance of Demencia. His kiss with her, is streamed and goes viral. It causes all of her zombie “fans” to fall out of love with her.

While some series would have stopped there, Villainous goes the extra step. Heed is pushed into a vat of her own liquid, ending her plan to be the “most-loved” hero. She is locked up in a maximum security prison. Fitting with her personality, she falls off her rocker, and demands that people need to love her. In one of the best scenes in the series, Flug, after learning about Goldheart’s plan to eliminate all villains, tells Heed that she needs to love herself first (i.e. self-love) before she can love anyone else.

The entire sequence, at first, appears to reinforce retributive justice paradigms. The latter involves punishment being imposed unilaterally, no option for remorse, and crime in the domain of the state. This is interlinked with the narrative that violence is justified as long as it is directed at those deemed as “evil”. It further involves heroes in league with the criminal system and has an assumption that villains cannot be rehabilitated. On the other hand, Villainous turns this around, as Heed is a hero and Flug is a villain, meaning that a “hero” is being locked away for something a “villain” would do.

While Flug’s kiss is a one-off interaction, Demencia’s romantic obsession with Black Hat spans the series. She believes that her romantic feelings will be reciprocated, but he likely doesn’t care much about her. However, her love saves her from Heed’s concoction, as she only has love for him. More than anything, Demencia is an obsessed fan. Perhaps her character is symbolic of out-of-control fans which feel the same way about public figures, to the detriment of themselves and those personalities.

All in all, this series has many similarities to Helluva Boss and Hazbin Hotel, especially the former. BHO somewhat resembles I.M.P. (Immediate Murder Professionals). The latter is contracted by demons in hell to assassinate people in the world of the living. The difference is that BHO specifically focuses on heroes and is only contracted by villains.

The last episode of Villainous, at present, lays the groundwork for future episodes. Goldheart (voiced by Oliver Roberts) seems to know Dr. Flug, declaring “Flug, what did you do now?” The efforts of BHO to counter him could be an important storyline.

A possible second season, might not follow a serialized format. The six current episodes have the same characters, but are not, serialized. Each episode could stand on its own. This does not diminish the series, however.

The voice actors for this series stand out. Apart from Ituriel, Yian Riuz, Cindy Eliz Pérez, and Mark Fischbach, who voice the protagonists, are all talented. Fischbach is a well-known YouTuber, with this as his first voice role. In contrast, Pérez previously played a character in BoBoiBoy Elemental Heroes, and Riuz in Mashed!

Similarly, Sahid Pabon, Roly Gutiérrez, Connie Fernandez, Yenni Ann, Guia Burns, and Jason Kessler, who voice villains, wrestlers, henchmen, and others in the series, are equally talented. They have lent their voices to characters in Monkey King Reborn, Legend Quest, Gintama, Leo De Vinci, Rainbow High, Kageki Shojo!!, and Kemono Friends.

This is also the case for the Spanish-language voice actors, such as José Antonio Macías, Melissa Gedeón, Lourdes Arruti, and Diego Valenzuela. They have voiced characters in video games, animated shorts, and productions such as Guardians of Oz, and Top Cat.

The producers of Villainous worked on The Flying Machine, Hua Se, Frankelda’s Book of Spooks, Pucca, Pandalian, Eden, Tonikawa: Over the Moon for You, and Xi you ji. Kevin Manthei, the music composer, worked on Ben 10, Spider-Man, Robot Chicken, Ultimate Spider-Man, Polly Pocket, Hanny Manny, Invader Zim, and Generator Rex.

Other than the amazing dubbing by VOA Studios, in Miami, the show’s crew includes alums from many series. This includes Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, Dota: Dragon’s Blood, Black Dynamite, Legend of Korra, OK K.O. Let’s Be Heroes!, Danger House, Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law, and Scan2Go.

Villainous is more than a series with humor reminiscent of 1990s cartoons. It has themes about overcoming your inner demons and lampoons popular Cartoon Network series. This is accompanied by entertaining characters, which have intriguing dynamics and comraderie within the BHO, wonderful animation, character design, artwork, and creativity. What other series has villains traveling to their destination in a flying hat spewing smoke?

I haven’t watched enough Invader Zim or The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy to say if Villainous is like those series. However, each character is interesting enough and the story is engaging that Villainous could run for many seasons. If Helluva Boss has aired 12 episodes, why can’t Villainous do the same? Perhaps the cast could become even more diverse and LGBTQ characters could be added. The latter would further enhance the series.

Unfortunately, Villainous comes at a time of extreme flux at Max’s parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery. This includes an error causing writers, directors, and creators to all be lumped together into one category. There has been an awful rollout of the “Max”  streaming service, in an inane effort to “attract” families.

This comes after the cruel content purge at HBO Max, former name for the service. It resulted in the removal of Infinity Train, Mighty Magiswords, Uncle Grandpa, Final Space, and Close Enough. None of them have been re-added to Max. The content purge on Hulu, and on Max, was discussed in a PCM podcast on May 22nd.

Despite the shenanigans of the corporate executives, I am hopeful that Villainous will be continued with additional episodes. All in all, I highly recommend Villainous as a series to watch.

Villainous is currently streaming on Max.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Declassified Documents Describe China-Taliban Relations and Fears About Uighur Guerillas

Recent allegations that the Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group native to the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in the Northwest region of China, are an “attractive constituency” for terrorist groups like Islamic State – Khorasan Province, warrant careful scrutiny, particularly at a time of increased U.S.-Chinese tension. The Chinese government strongly opposes the political movement that seeks an independent Uighur nation-state, in part due to purported concerns about political violence, and Beijing has been accused of violating Uighur human rights. The U.S., however, has indicated its support of the Uighur community in recent years. In January 2023, President Biden stated that ethnic minority communities, such as the Uighurs, continue to face “intimidation, violence, and unequal protection under the law,” a sentiment previously reflected in U.S. press briefings and other statements since at least March 2019.

This was originally published on May 8 2023 on Unredacted. I worked with Unredacted editor (and National Security Archive Director of Public Policy and Open Government Affairs) Lauren Harper to smooth out this article and make sure it flowed better, with edits back and forth from March 2023 to May 2023.

The U.S. stance on the Uighur issue has evolved across recent presidential administrations, and the assessments found in the declassified documents featured in today’s post, which were all released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), reflect those of the first George W. Bush administration. These documents are a selection from the new Digital National Security Archive collection, Afghanistan War and the United States, 1998-2017, which was published in December of last year. The five documents examined in this post primarily detail: friendly Chinese relations with the Taliban in the early 2000s in an attempt to secure assurances about Uighur guerrillas in Afghanistan; a U.S. assessment of threat posed by said guerrillas; and U.S. complicity in allowing Chinese officials to interrogate Uighur detainees held at Camp X-Ray, which was housed at Guantanamo.

Aerial image of Camp X-Ray under construction in January 2002. Photograph by U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 1st Class Shane T. McCoy.

In March 5, 2001, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research issued a one-page secret intelligence brief noting a meeting between Chinese diplomats and Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. The discussion included recommendations from a Chinese fact-finding mission, including assurances that so-called “Xinjiang dissidents” were being trained to fight anti-Taliban groups inside Afghanistan, and not threatening China. The unnamed U.S. diplomat noted that such meetings were indicative of broadening engagement between the Taliban and China, and pointed to evidence of increased commercial contacts. Similarly, then-U.S. Ambassador to China, Joseph W. Prueher, stated in a March 9, 2001, confidential cable to Secretary of State Colin Powell that China’s “beautiful friendship” with the Taliban was rooted in a desire for “stability” and a resolution to the Afghanistan civil war. In his cable, Prueher examined why the Chinese accepted Taliban rule and cited increasing academic and official exchanges. When it came to the Uighurs, he noted Chinese fears that an unfriendly Taliban government could cause “mischief” in the Xinjiang region by supporting those termed “Uighur separatists,” and China’s hope that the Taliban would not support such guerrillas. However, he argued that although China would not formally recognize the rule of the Taliban, China was impressed by “performance and pledges” of the Taliban.

On September 18, 2001, Clark T.  Randt, Jr., Prueher’s successor as U.S. Ambassador to China, reported in a confidential cable to Secretary Powell, on a meeting with an ambassador to China who predicted possible Chinese support of the U.S. War on Terror. He also noted that “growing links” between Taliban and China might complicate such support. Part of this cable described Chinese provision of economic cooperation and development aid to the Taliban to accomplish political and economic goals. This included Chinese attempts at convincing the Taliban to “not supply arms and training to separatists in Xinjiang.” These guerrillas were later described as a non-threat to the U.S. A heavily-excised cable sent on September 20 from the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations summarizing the terrorist threat facing U.S. military forces in southern Kyrgyzstan stated this directly. On page three, it noted that Uighurs had proven “capable” in assaults, including against Chinese people, with the attack on an official Chinese delegation from Xinjiang at the Dostuk Hotel in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in May 2000. Despite this, the document said that Uighurs did not “threaten US interests in [the] region” even though some fought for the religious extremist group, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

This perceived lack of threat from the Uighurs could partially explain why the U.S. government granted Chinese officials access to Uighurs imprisoned in Camp X-Ray, which was a temporary detention facility inside the Guantanamo Bay detention camp that had been used by the U.S. government to house Cuban exiles in the mid-1990s. A remarkable passage buried within an unclassified October 2009 Department of Justice Inspector General report, “A Review of the FBI’s Involvement in and Observations of Detainee Interrogations in Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, and Iraq,” states that “several Uighur detainees” were subjected to cruel treatment such as sleep deprivation and “disruption” at Camp X-Ray, including food deprivation. These prisoners were either interrogated by Chinese officials or by U.S. personnel at the “behest of Chinese interrogators.” (See pages 183-184.) The lingering questions surrounding the interrogation of the Uighur detainees at Camp X-Ray deserve further scrutiny now that the Biden administration is expressing support of the Uighurs.

For related documents, see our previous blog post, “Declassified U.S. Intelligence Documents Describe Taliban History with Illicit Narcotics Trade,” the Archive’s Afghanistan Project, and the Archive’s China Documentation Project.

Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 Spoiler-Filled Review

Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1, also known as Justice League x RWBY, RWBY x Justice League, or JLxRWBY for short, is an anime-inspired science fantasy action-adventure film, bringing together characters from the Justice League and those from the young adult animated series, RWBY. The latter is the flagship series of Rooster Teeth and began airing in 2013. It recently concluded its ninth season. This film was written by Meghan Fitzmartin and directed by Kerry Shawcross.

Reprinted from Pop Culture Maniacs and Wayback Machine. This was the thirty-second article I wrote for Pop Culture Maniacs. This post was originally published on April 30, 2023.

This 83-minute film begins with Superman’s unexpected arrival on Remnant, since he has no idea how he ended up there. In classic crossover fashion, seven of the classic Justice League characters, find themselves in Remnant as teenagers. Soon enough the huntresses of Remnant, specifically Ruby Rose, Blake Belladonna, Weiss Schnee, and Yang Xiao Long, and their friends, work with them to learn why their planet has changed and stop a Grimm monster from destroying all that exists. Ruby, Blake, Weiss, and Yang all have superpowers of sorts, known as semblances, each unique to themselves.

I was intrigued by this film as an avid fan of RWBY and occasional watcher of superhero series like DC Super Hero Girls, Young Justice, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Birdgirl, Harley Quinn, Hamster & Gretel, Gotham Girls, Masters of the Universe: Revelation, and She-Ra: Princess of Power. My interest in the classic superheroish magical girl anime Sailor Moon and the superheroish action series such as Sym-Bionic Titan, My Life as a Teenage Robot, and OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes, further made me want to watch this film. My excitement remained even after learning that the film takes place in the first half of RWBY‘s Volume 7.

There are differences from RWBY. For instance, Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1, Ruby, Weiss, Blake, and Yang wear the outfits they donned in Vale, while Weiss can master her summoning of Glyphs, Nora wears the same outfit she wore in Beacon Academy, and the CCT tower at Beacon isn’t destroyed, but is active. This is all because this film takes place in an alternate universe of sorts. That makes sense as it is a crossover film which has the same voice actors as the original RWBY series. One difference is Tiana Camacho, who voices Glynda in the RWBY original anime spinoff, RWBY: Ice Queendom.

It was nice to see Ruby, Weiss, Blake, Yang, Juane Arc, Pyrrha Nikos, and Lie Ren, the latter three part of team JNR, interacting with members of the Justice League such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman/Diana, Green Lantern/Jessica, Vixen, Cyborg, and The Flash. In the RWBY show proper Ozpin has been reincarnated as Oscar, other characters have either died, like Jacques Schnee (presumably in Volume 8), or haven’t appeared in the show recently, like Glynda or Kali Belladonna. They return in this film.

Two other characters also appear: Adam Taurus and Sienna Khan. Adam Taurus was Blake’s abusive boyfriend. Sienna Khan was killed by Adam to take control of the White Fang, a peaceful organization originally aimed at improving conditions for the Faunus, a group of people with animal traits. Taurus aimed to change the latter organization into a violent terrorist organization which would overthrow human society and replace it with a Faunus-led one. In Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1, the latter two characters are only shown in a flashback when Blake remembers back to what actually happened during the series.

Apart from the voice actors for the RWBY characters, like Arryn Zech, Blake Dunkelman, Lindsay Jones, Kara Eberle, Miles Luna, Samantha Ireland, and Neath Oum, those who voice the members of the Justice League (Chandler Riggs, Nat Wolff, Natalie Alyn Lind, David Errigo Jr., Jeannie Tirado, Tru Valentino, and Ozioma Akagha) are just as talented. Riggs (who voices Superman) is known for his role as Carl Grimes in The Walking Dead. Wolff, the voice of Batman, has been recognized for his music, and roles in films like Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars, and Ashby. Lind, the voice of Wonder Woman in this film, is known for various television appearances including as Danielle Sullivan in Big Sky.

Errigo Jr., voice of The Flash, has previously done voice work in Ridley Jones, The Casagrandes, Milo Murphy’s Law, and Dota: Dragon’s Blood. Tirado, voicing Green Lantern, has lent her voice to characters in dubs of Fairy Tail Zero, KanColle: Kantai Collection, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Tru Valentino, who voices Cyborg, is known for his voice work in Madagascar: A Little WildKung Fu Panda: The Dragon Knight, and Spidey and His Amazing Friends.

I personally remember Valentino best for his role as Cuphead in the short-lived animated slapstick comedy, The Cuphead Show. Finally, Arkagha, who voices Vixen, is best known for her acting as Harper Omereoha in Delilah, and her voice acting as Shuri in What If…? and Bumblebee in Teen Titans Go!, to name a few roles.

Admittedly, I wasn’t sure about Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 at first. Surely, the fight scenes and the character designs were good, but was uneasy about the plot, even when Superman got on the scene at the film’s beginning. However, the film drew me in, beginning with Grimm glitching out of control when killed, all while they still retain their goal, as soulless creatures, to destroy humanity, which as Nora puts it at one point in the film.

The humor of the characters, especially of Yang, lightened the mood. For example, Yang scoffs at the idea she will call Superman by his name, causing him to admit they can call him “Clark” (as in Clark Kent) instead. It was also funny that when Batman/Bruce Wayne fights people in the Schnee mansion, a person is playing the piano during his fight.

The fracturing and scrambling of memory, causing the characters to be confused about what actually happened, is at the crux of the Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1. It causes people, such as Ozpin, to appear, glitch into Oscar, and disappear, or others like Blake’s mom, Kali, to say strange things. Some try and figure out the reality of their present predicament. Batman/Bruce Wayne, attempts this, but gets imprisoned. Others realize something is wrong, but are unsure what to do about it.

There is even a sub-theme about the power of privilege. Weiss criticizes her father, Jacques, of the ever-powerful Schnee family, for having a party rather than not repairing the CCT Tower. This bonds Weiss and Batman/Bruce Wayne together, as he says that the wealthy don’t care about the plights of other people in any universe.

As would be expected, there are disagreements between heroes, with Blake and Yang annoyed that the Justice League is trying to tell them what to do, and vice versa. In fact, in a harsh scene which resonates with those who saw Volume 9, Cyborg asks Ruby who she is and she doesn’t know. Although Superman says it is difficult to be a leader, he later questions her as team leader, which does not help her confidence! Even so, when Kilgore declares that Ruby is a child who is trying to be a leader, Superman reassures her, saying leadership isn’t about age, but about your heart. He adds that although people will inevitably freeze and fail, that’s what makes you human. The latter is a hint at the theme of self-acceptance enshrined throughout RWBY‘s Volume 9.

In the end, Team RWBY, Team JNR, and Justice League all work together, either by examining at holographic maps or tapping into their superpowers/semblances to fight the Grimm and save the day. Their fight is complicated by the fact that these Grimm are not ordinary, but can reboot, until they are electrocuted. This means that Ruby can’t use her silver eyes, her ultimate “weapon”.

This road to victory is not necessarily a simple one. One theme of Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 is that people lose something which is a part of them. For Vixen, her necklace is missing, and for Jessica, she lost her all-powerful Green Lantern ring. In the case of the latter, it seems she is having issues tapping into her powers at first.

What stole the show in this film was Juane offering to help her, showing care, patience, and understanding in the process. Ger power is trapped, and she can’t access it. Jessica says the ring grounds her, stating it is a symbol of power, belonging, and control. Hence, without it, she feels unmoored and listless, like a ship drifting across the open sea. This reminds me of how Adora felt in the final season of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, when she felt completely lost after the Sword of Protection was shattered, and even questioned whether she could help her friends. Coming back to this film, Juane tells her that her ring gets the truth of things and the truth of her, again trying to help her center herself.

At the same time, the film provides subtle hints to the trauma the characters have experienced in the past. Cyborg says at one point “what, you haven’t learned to adapt thanks to childhood trauma?”. Canonically, in the Marvel universe, Jessica experienced trauma herself as a kid. As such, the film’s writers were not above retraumatizing the characters. For example, a person who looks like Pyrrha tricks Juane, and traps him, with Jessica, in a box, while warning them to not warn the Justice League about the reality. Juane is further affected when the Seer causes him to see Pyrrha’s death, paralyzing him.

After Juane had already experienced the death of Pyrrha second-hand (Ruby saw it first-hand), seeing her in front of him caused him to lose all reason, and trust her. This isn’t a surprise after all he has been through, so no one can hold it against him. It was good writing to have Juane tell Jessica about Pyrrha and still be able to help Jessica be more than her fear. In a powerful statement which is often not stated in fiction, he tells her it is fine to have anxiety flare-ups and implies she shouldn’t be ashamed of them. All of this helps encourage Jessica to use her green lantern power to help them escape.

Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 hints at the ship-of-sorts between Jessica and Juane, which could be called “Greenknight”, overriding any interest Juane had in Vixen, who he seemed taken in by, at first. The film also implies there is a ship between Batman and Weiss. In fact, Weiss states various times that Batman should stay. This could very well mean that she has romantic feelings for him. Their collaboration is an important part of the film, as both work together at an Atlas’ computer lab to learn the reality of the world and why everything is glitching.

Funny enough, Diana is jealous of how close Weiss and Batman are getting. It could be part of the reason she wants to pull him back to “his” world. The writing of Diana, Weiss, and Batman in the film is good. It better than what some would claim, as it is clear that a Batman and Weiss ship, at least in the forms shown in the film, is possible. Otherwise, Weiss and Batman can fight well together, even when faced with impossible odds.

While it is not directly stated, there is queer subtext between Blake and Yang. In the show proper, both are in a relationship, mutually confessing their romantic feelings in the Volume 9 episode “Confessions Within Cumulonimbus Clouds”. The ship between both, known as Bumbleby, had been semi-canon before that point, but was not canonized until that episode. In the film itself, Yang hugs Blake happily, Blake gives Yang the side-eye when she describes Diana “very strong”, and Blake agrees to go along with Diana to Atlas because she is jealous. Still, Blake puts this aside and fight alongside her against the Grimm while flying through the air.

At other points in Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1, Blake and Yang look at one another, with Blake explaining how she and Yang got to know each other. Furthermore, Yang worries about Blake after she talks about losing people. In a very touching scene in the film, Blake and Yang touch each other’s hands through the cockpit window, with Yang saying she trusts Blake, while she pilots the aircraft. In the meantime, Blake puts aside her jealousy so she can fight alongside Diana against the Grimm even as she flies through the air.

Toward the end of the film, after Diana says she knows it is hard to fight under fire, Blake says that it is nice to kiss ass and bumps her ass with Yang. As Yang’s voice actor stated in watch party for the series, “how did anyone ever think Yang was straight”. Although it has not be directly confirmed, fans have stated that Yang is a lesbian. Blake was previously confirmed as bisexual. As Shawcross put it, Bumbleby moments were added because it was something the crew liked and said the moments. He also stated that “Blake and Yang had a lot that they could talk [about] with and relate to with Diana, Wonder Woman”. The latter may have been a reference to past comments by those who say that Wonder Woman is a bisexual icon, later confirmed by writer Greg Rucka.

The last battle of Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1, which involves riding on bikes, and tag-team fighting (like Yang and Blake), is one of the film’s strongest. In a hint at what may happen in the second part of the film crossover series, it is clear that a villain named Kilgore, who created a virtual reality by mind-controlling The Flash, is also stuck there. As such, it is implied that someone else is controlling him, although it isn’t clear who.

His plan to make the Justice League into teens, when they are “vulnerable”, have the world rip them apart, and cause them to deal with emotions they ignore or regress as adults seems like a weak plan. He could have, just as easily, imprisoned them on their own world, instead of Remnant. The hubris of Kilgore is what takes him down. Jessica uses the equivalent of Ruby’s silver eyes on the Grimm dragon, which has Kilgore inside, causing him to almost fade from existence.

Although everyone says their goodbyes and they all go back to their respective worlds, it is clear this isn’t the end. All of the main cast, which are not part of the Justice League, wake up from what was supposed to be a training mission. Ruby’s concern that someone created the virtual reality/simulation, a person from their world, setting the stage for the next film.

All in all, animation of Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 is well-done, and the designs are very colorful. There are even features that make it seem like a comic book, such as talk bubbles when characters are annoyed, and other expressions. All of the flowing animation which goes easily with the storytelling, voice acting, and the like, is no surprise as over 210 people, if not more, worked on this film. That makes it an even bigger effort than a volume of RWBY!

Unfortunately, Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 was effectively spoiled on social media before its release, in part because it accidentally aired early on Redbox on April 20, five days before its general release. This made animators ask fans to not post spoilers until the film came out, or say they feel “pretty hurt” by people posting clips from the entire film before its release on April 25th. On the positive side, this interest will undoubtedly help support Volume 10 for RWBY, so that the show’s characters can have their stories continued, even if reported review bombing on IMDB continues.

The film was available on Google Play, but was later taken down for unexplained reasons. Although the stock of Rooster Teeth’s parent company (Warner Bros. Discovery) has been falling, thanks to the rebranding of HBO streaming platform, and debt continues to accumulate, the film survived the cuts. That is for the best.

Adding onto what I’ve said so far about the film, I personally liked the design of characters like Jessica, whether you consider her gender non-conforming or not, the White Rose scenes of sorts, Weiss summoning powerful glyphs, and it is a lot of fun. Perhaps, there will be future RWBY features in the future which are not crossovers.

In certain ways, this film made me think of Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night, which I reviewed earlier this year, as it is also set in a virtual reality. In this film, the characters are forced into a virtual reality, while in Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night, I believe they chose to be in that reality.

Hopefully, in the second part of film crossover series, Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part Two, which may come out in the summer, there is more character exploration of Superman, Batman, Diana, and Vixen. This film focused on the internal struggles of Jessica more than the other Justice League members. It would be great to see a focus on the mental struggles of the other Justice League members as well. I would not be surprised if there are additional scenes with ships such as Bumbleby, Greenknight, and Weiss/Batman, since this film set the groundwork for the next one.

As a final note, although David Levy, who has long worked on RWBY, and on series such as Red vs. Blue, Camp Camp, various bands, and independent films, does a decent job with the film’s music, it isn’t that memorable. Maybe, Casey Lee Williams could either compose the music score of the next film, or at least a few tracks. That would ensure that the film packed an extra punch.

Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes and Huntsmen, Part 1 can be purchased or rented on Prime Video, MoviesAnywhere, iTunes/Apple TV+, Redbox, and Vudu, or have the DVD and Blu-ray ordered from other online marketplaces.

© 2023 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.